August is the single month every year, where I go looking for a better job.
Because everytime August comes around, I'm reminded of a very specific day of my life - Aug 11th 2003.
Very clearly a bad day to recall, but first impressions are often very deep.
That was my very first day at work, but coincidentally was also the first time I felt like I need to go looking for a better job. It wasn't that it was a bad workplace, it was rather banal and mundane. However, until that day the pure transactionality of a job had never occured to me. Looking at my parent's generation, there's a certain symbiotic permanence that I had come to associate with finding a job.
There was a certain dispensability with which my employer looked at my skills, which turned my time into their money. And thus I kept interviewing, every month at a different company. Took twelve hour bus rides to Bangalore over weekends to arrive at 5 AM to show up sleepy at 9 AM job fair for IBM, for Oracle, for Cisco. Unsurprisingly, those days didn't see me at my best at 3 PM, when they had weeded through the univerisities they cared about and got to the other end of their pile.
Monday morning, I'd be back at my desk in Hyderabad, sleepy again from a bus ride in a cramped seat.
Looking back at my work at Wipro, it wasn't all mind-numbing tedium, because I'm not built to survive boredom. I was given several dumb projects to finish, but they all ended up with me automating away parts of my tedium and then just working through my Sedgewick for the next interview where they would ask me to delete a node off a binary tree.
They made me do a matrix of BUGs fixed against release versions, which ended up with me learning how CVS branches work and automatically extracting ChangeLogs from tags. I had to test the phones' address book full error messages, which involved filling up the address book manually over two days before I got to it, I built a GSM AT RS232 automation to push the buttons for me (thanks wvdial for forcing me to learn what ATDT is). I was asked to rebuild a GSM ROM which could keep failing linker with segmentation errors, which was solved by people brute forcing the build flags till the build went through, I ended up working out that it was a bin-packing problem (3 non-contiguous flash regions, move around the linker regions until no binary has address crossing the boundaries).
My desk used to have a poster which said "Never send a man to do a machine's job" (but with an Arnold next to it, which I'd argue is appropriate).
But what I did with my spare time was look for a better job. And writing cryptic entries in my diary about I'm underemployed and overworked at the same time - because the more problems I solved, the more came to me and I'm a sucker for a hard problem, it feeds my beast.
Many things that are different about me fourteen years later. That one thing hasn't changed, I'm still a sucker for hard problems - because they are hard, not because they are easy.
The world will never run out of hard problems - being in a position to work on them is a completely different organizational challenge. Sometimes a problem will be literaly above your pay grade. When you run into organizational struggles, it is better to move on - there are always hard problems elsewhere.
That was an easy lesson that I learnt the hard way.--
I don't know who you are.
I don't know what you want.
I can tell you I don't have money.
But what I do have are a very particular set of skills,
Skills I have acquired over a very long career.
-- Paraphrasing "Taken" (2008)